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Two Senate Candidates Buck Parties on Syrian Refugees

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who faces one of the toughest reelection fights this year,  released a digital ad Monday attacking three Republican challengers for their support of abortion bans.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who faces one of the toughest reelection fights this year,  released a digital ad Monday attacking three Republican challengers for their support of abortion bans. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan has the distinction of being the only Democratic governor so far to call on the federal government to stop accepting Syrian refugees. At the same time, vulnerable Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is one of the few Republicans who is not calling for a halt on Syrian immigrants.  

Hassan, who’s waging a competitive Senate contest against GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, echoed the sentiment aired by Republican governors Monday. “The Governor believes that the federal government should halt acceptance of refugees from Syria until intelligence and defense officials can assure that the process for vetting all refugees, including those from Syria, is as strong as possible to ensure the safety of the American people,” spokesman William Hinkle said in a statement .  

Ayotte joined with vulnerable Illinois Sen. Mark S. Kirk in sending a letter to President Barack Obama Monday asking the U.S. government not to admit Syrian refugees unless it “can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters, or sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Daesh or ISIL.”  

Meanwhile, Johnson, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, took a more measured tone than Scott Walker, the state’s governor, who said Monday he would oppose resettling Syria refugees in the Badger State.  

Like the rest of his party, Johnson emphasized the importance of vetting refugees and said he would use his committee chairmanship “to hold the administration’s feet to the fire.” But he did not say Syrians should not be resettled in the U.S.  

Instead, he called on the government to prioritize which refugees it accepts from Syria, before saying, “the administration must address these legitimate concerns” about vetting.  

“To the extent this administration allows Syrian refugees into America, it should be done using a common sense prioritization of those most in need and who pose no threat,” Johnson said in the statement. “The first priority should be women and children relatives of Syrian-American citizens who would be financially responsible for their relatives.”  

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Monday evening, Johnson called himself a “lone wolf” thanks to his position.  

Responding Sunday to the attacks in Paris, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold called for enhancing U.S. intelligence rather than relying exclusively on military might to combat the Islamic State. He called for reviving the Foreign Intelligence and Information Commission Act, which he introduced and was passed into law in 2010 but was not funded.  

“While every option should be on the table — military, economic and diplomatic — the United States cannot repeat the mistakes of the past by responding to one crisis at a time solely with military action,” Feingold said in a statement.

In a statement Monday evening, Feingold said the safety of American citizens should be “our first priority,” but he cautioned against “giv[ing] in to the belief that those fleeing terrorism or seeking freedom are not welcome in the United States.” 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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